Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Why I am busy

Just to keep you informed of my situation here - yes, thank God, I am quite busy, with both work (that means employment) and work (that means the various projects I undertake for others). But you might be wondering about what that work is. Obviously I am not at liberty to go into my employment at present - though it usually means moving files, or having the machinery move files according to my orders. And I am not at liberty to go into all my projects either.

But I will give you just a little insight into WHY I do them - the projects, not the employment. I do that for money, and because there are others who depend on me, though not in the sense the IRS uses that term! It is good to acknowledge, in this posting, how much I depend on others, too - for food, writing, laughter, and all kinds of things too long to list here. As Chesterton said, "The greatest of poems is an inventory." [Orthodoxy CW1:267] And in telling you why, I may give you a clue to what it is I am doing. I found this quote in a book by S. L. Jaki - it is his "intellectual autobiography":
In that essay I spoke, of course, of Duhem, partly to illustrate the duty of a Catholic intellectual to drop everything else once he spots a topic of great moment for Catholic culture.
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter, 222]
Pierre Duhem, as you may know, was a brilliant French physicist, Catholic, hiker, artist, mathematician, and also an amazing historian of science (1861-1916). Jaki has three books on him and his work, as well as a book on his daughter; he refers to Duhem many times in his other books, in particular Duhem's 10-volume Systemè du monde which I think I mentioned on March 7. Alas as yet it has not yet been translated into English! Another day, perhaps, I will post more about the importance of that work.

But you may wonder about how this fits together with Chesterton. Obviously for a Chestertonian, all topics are interesting, but there is something extra exciting when one sees the convergence of several of one's own delights.... Jaki, Newman, Chesterton... here, check this out:
By then I had twenty or so years of intensive writing behind me, which taught me the truth of a saying of John Henry Newman: "Nothing would be done at all if a man waited until he could do it so well that no one would find fault with it."
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter 103]
Compare that with this:
...if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.
[GKC, What's Wrong With the World CW4:199]
Or this, perhaps even more amazing:
Would, today, a "progressive" theologian repeat with Newman that we know much more about angels than we know about brutes, or the animal kingdom?
[Jaki, A Mind's Matter 213]
compared with:
A turkey is more occult and awful than all the angels and archangels. In so far as God has partly revealed to us an angelic world, he has partly told us what an angel means. But God has never told us what a turkey means. And if you go and stare at a live turkey for an hour or two, you will find by the end of it that the enigma has rather increased than diminished.
[GKC, ILN Jan 4, 1908 CW28:21]
This is so exciting - and I would like to tell you more, but the machinery needs to be burped, so I must resume my other work now.

An Update

I found the first Newman quote! Courtesy of www.newmanreader.org:
At least they expose their inherent imperfections, if they incur no other penalty; for nothing would be done at all, if a man waited till he could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.
[Newman, Newman Reader (page 403)
Present Position of Catholics: Lecture 9:
"Duties of Catholics Towards the Protestant View"]
Now, the question before us is: Did Chesterton read this book before he wrote his What's Wrong With the World in 1910?


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